Ad Spending: CMR numbers show overall first-quarter spending drop

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Take your pick: Ad spending rose or fell in the first quarter.

Spending in consumer media increased 0.4% to $23.5 billion vs. a year ago, according to Taylor Nelson Sofres' CMR. But when business-to-business publications are factored in, total U.S. media spending fell 1.2%.

The consumer-media uptick- the first since the fourth quarter of 2000-"is an indicator that we've begun to turn around," said George Shababb, senior VP at CMR. The company is still projecting a 1.5% growth in spending this year, and "we haven't seen anything up to this point that would lead us to change that forecast," he said.

Olympic advertising, an early Easter and a lousy 2001 first quarter helped consumer advertising eke out the increase, aided by jumps of 6.6% in network TV and 9.3% in newspapers. Monthly year-over-year consumer totals were down 6.6% in January, up 8.3% in February and down 0.2% in March.

The network TV surge was due to a 40.4% spending increase in February-the month of the Olympic games-and newspapers saw 15% year-over-year growth in March, thanks to the Easter holiday, which fell in April last year. First-quarter spot TV was up 2.5%, also courtesy of a 16.9% jump in February.

Overall, media appear to be benefiting from easier comparisons with last year's first quarter. Radio comparisons were particularly favorable to year-ago drops of 18.5% and 24.4%, respectively, for network and spot, and spot TV compared well with a 17% drop in 2001; but first-quarter dollar figures for all three media were below 2000 levels. Newspapers showed unexpected vigor by comparison with a 13% drop in 2001, and ad dollars were above 2000's levels.

tough comparison

Syndicated TV suffered from comparisons to a 5.8% increase in the first quarter of 2001. Magazines, which showed a basically flat 0.2% gain in 2001, also suffered from comparisons, although Mr. Shababb noted the medium remains weak.

CMR's numbers are roughly in agreement with first-quarter preliminary figures released earlier this month by Nielsen Media Research's Nielsen Monitor-Plus.

The numbers bear out what agency heads have been saying since the first quarter: Business looks better, thanks to a better economy and easier comparisons.

The CEOs of both Interpublic Group of Cos. and Omnicom Group both told shareholder meetings last week that spending is on the verge of a comeback, however tenuous.

Interpublic's John J. Dooner Jr. said "conversations with clients are hopeful" and new business is up.

Omnicom's John Wren noted clients have authorized Omnicom to commit more money to the TV upfront market if they can make deals.

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